I was only a kid when I began to pursue a dream. A dream to become a harpist, playing it beautifully like an angel. On September 15th, 2016 at high noon, my dream finally came true. How I became a harpist is what I will share with you my personal harp story. A story I wrote years ago to raise awareness of my need to afford to buy a pedal harp which took me 25 years to achieve. Without further ado, here it is. NOTE: This article is very long but well worth reading.
It began way back when I was a kid growing up in Owosso, Michigan. I was reading a Bible storybook featuring David playing the harp before King Saul and saw the great illustrations of David playing his harp. That’s when I knew that this is what I want to play. But since then, whenever I see a harp on TV, such as Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and The Monkees I would get real excited and hyperventilate to the point where I would turn myself away and not look at the harp and/or the person playing the harp on TV as if I’d rather hate the harp than love it. This led me to develop a habit of being much too embarrassed to tell anyone about my dream of playing the harp.
I used to look at pictures of people playing harps in many music books, dictionaries, and encyclopedias and fantasize about them. I would draw favorite cartoon characters playing harps, even daydream about them, too. But that’s nothing compared to seeing the actual person playing the harp, let alone have an equally strong desire to play and own a harp— A pedal harp, with its beautiful graceful shape, 47 strings, and pedals I can operate freely while I pluck the strings. This is the kind of harp I want to own badly regardless of how much money I have. A grand concert pedal harp I’ve seen in concerts, recitals, TV, books, in my mind, everywhere I go.
But unfortunately, I came from a very low-income family who just couldn’t afford to buy a harp no matter what they do. Thus, I end up having no harp at all. Over the years I struggled with finding myself embarrassed when the subject of the harp is brought up in public. It was no problem talking about the harp to myself in private. Yet I was too embarrassed to tell anyone in the public that I want to play the harp.
That is until 1989 when I became brave enough to tell others that I wanted to play the harp, and got really serious about it. I only want to play the kind of harp I’ve seen on TV and in books, not some old folk and Irish harps that I’ve seen in old medieval paintings and such. I began to pray to God for the harp constantly, always asking Him to grant me a harp to play on and own.
My Harp Teacher and the Unwanted Harp
Then in 1991, when I was 17 years old, I went with my high school counselor and saw for the very first time my harp teacher, Ellen Grafius and her harp “Nutkin” a Lyon & Healy Style 17 pedal harp from the famous Lyon & Healy Harp factory in Chicago, IL. I had a great time listening to her music and trying out her harp. I made a big impression on with how well I can play the harp; I played it very well. I learn quickly the correct fingerings, which string to pluck, and where to put my hands on the harp after I’m done playing. But that doesn’t mean I never made any mistakes. Whenever I made mistakes, I had to go and start the song over again. Still, I became a pretty good harp player and instantly developed a strong desire and determination to play the harp and own one.
But one year later in April of 1992, I found out that a high school, in E. Lansing, Michigan has two harps available for rent. I thought my prayers were answered. But unfortunately, none of them were pedal harps. They were L&H troubadour harps, harps resembling old Irish style harps with levers aligning the neck of the harp you move with your fingers in comparison with the moving of the pedals with just your feet.
I found myself at the receiving end of a L&H Troubadour lever harp which I named “Angel” the harp I had to put up practicing and playing in concerts and recitals with for 6 years, relying on a verse in the Bible (Luke 16:10) where Jesus said that if one is very faithful with the small things in life, he will also be faithful with the large things in life. He was actually referring to how one handles money when he said it. But I took that verse and applied it to the harp.
When I look back at that verse today, everything about the verse (to me) has been translated to “You’re playing the lever harp whether you like it or not! For chances are, you won’t be able to get the pedal harp at all. So stop complaining and be satisfied with playing what you have!” I despised the troubadour harp even when I tried to like it. Before I got “Angel”, I made up my mind to play only on a pedal harp. Nothing else. That’s was the decision I made long before I was made aware of better lever harps to love that perfectly replicates the pedal harp like the Salvi Ana (which should have been my first harp) and the L&H Prelude which debut years after I was introduced to the harp.
I’m very fussy when it comes to the harp. I want to play the grand concert pedal harp, not the lever harp! I would say, “I love this lever harp.” But deep down inside, I hated it. I hated it so much that I tried to tell anyone that I’m giving up this harp and replacing it with the pedal harp. But whenever I did, everyone mistakenly thought that I was going to give up the harp completely. No, I wasn’t! I want the pedal harp, not the lever harp! I don’t want to play on the troubadour harp at all. Period! Finally about 6 years later, I finally was able to give up the lever harp for good. I brought the harp back to Ellen to be taken back to the high school where it came from. I was completely done with the lever harp for now!
I never wanted to give up the pedal harp no matter what. My obsession for the pedal harp got real stronger over the years. Admittedly I should have financed a harp years ago when I first started playing the harp rather than go around begging people for help in getting a concert harp. Then I would’ve never wasted time to get a pedal harp that way.
Struggle with Jealousy
Unfortunately, due to highly limited resource and finances, I had to wait 12 years for another chance to get a pedal harp. At those times I struggled with fits of jealousy when I see other people play the pedal harp in concerts and recitals. So much so that I had to turn away and not see nor listen to them play. That was a really bad thing that has wrecked a lot of friendships with a famous Christian harpist that I became to admire, but I got extremely jealous of him because he has pedal harps and I didn’t.
Still, the harpist was very understanding of what I’m going through and has prayed for me to overcome my jealousy struggles and to be able to get my own pedal harp. One day I had a major jealous fit that forced my family to keep me cooped up my mother’s home instead of taking me to one of his concerts that were going to be held at a church somewhere in my hometown of Owosso, MI. I could no longer stand the sight of him nor the sound of his music and I couldn’t stop throwing jealous fits about him. So they kept me home at least until I got over my jealous rage. Afterward, I never went to his concerts again.
I spent 12 years begging people everywhere online and offline for help in either buying, borrowing a pedal harp, even donating money to buy a pedal harp, only to face one disappointment after another. Still, I never gave up finding ways to get a pedal harp.
Renting a Pedal Harp
The day finally came when I got finally blessed with a pedal harp to play on. One of the church members, who used to go to the same church I went to, offered to take me over to a music store in another town where it sells harps. But the harps the store sells were all Dusty Strings lever harps, the kind of harps I will not play. So, I showed the church friend a paper advertising The Michigan Harp Center, a harp retailer in Clawson, MI located right near Detroit where pedal harps are rented out as part of a rent to own program.
I really wanted to head on over and check out the store and the harps it has over there. So the church member, my mother, and I went over there and saw the harps. They are mostly Lyon & Healy Style 15 pedal Harps with a straight soundboard. These harps are over 30 years old and don’t have good sound quality than the newer harps. Still, these harps are everything I been looking for and I was willing to try them out.
So I went and played on the harps and fell in love with one of them. Months later, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley in 2002, I was finally blessed with renting one of the harps I fell in love with. “Gilligan” the harp I chose to rent was completely everything I’ve been looking for in a harp except that he had major problems with buzzing noises that were made every time I plucked the middle C string. It produced an unpleasant buzzing noise that’s uncharacteristic for a harp. I had to replace it with another harp named “Mary Ann.” which I also loved very much, but I would rather go for Gilligan because he was the first pedal harp I ever got. I had Mary Ann for a whole year until Gilligan was finally fixed — at least temporary — and I was able to get him back for a while.
But then sadly, a year later in 2004, I had to give the harp back to the Michigan Harp Center where the two harps came from because the rent-to-own contract has expired and I couldn’t afford to pay for the renewal. To me, it was a really emotionally painful experience, giving up the harps. A very cruel irony I had to face— 6 years of playing an unwanted harp and two years of playing a pedal harp I’d rather keep. I show no emotion when I gave up the lever harp, and yet I show tons of emotion when I had to give up the pedal harp. I had to. We just couldn’t afford to renew the contract anymore.
Both harps, especially Mary Ann, have done great wonders to banish the green monster of jealousy out of my life. I used to get real moody and throw jealous fits during concerts and recitals. That all changed after Gilligan and Mary Ann came into my life. I had Mary Ann when I went over to do an annual recital with my harp teacher at her house.
I haven’t brought her along since she was really big and bulky to carry around, but was able to feel her presence when I went over to Ellen’s house and perform the songs I learned to play on Ellen’s Harp, Nutkin, and watch the other harpists perform. Not one instance of jealousy and envy ever occurred throughout the recital. I was able to sit through, watched the harpists, listen to the music, and thoroughly enjoy the concert! That’s because they have a pedal harp and so do I. It was an awesome experience. Praise the Lord! My jealousy is gone!
With those harps, I never experienced fits of jealousy anymore. But when I had to give them up, I began to experience a little bit of jealousy again every now and then. This makes me wonder, “When will it all end permanently?” Well, the answer is getting a harp of my own I truly loved as much as I love Gilligan and Mary Ann— and love that instrument forever!
Experience with the Venus Classic
Then in 2009, I was able to rent another concert harp. This time from a harp rental place called Budget Harp Rentals which allowed me to rent a wonderful concert harp made from another harp company known as the W&W Musical Instrument Company (also known as W&W Venus Harps) makers of the beloved Venus Classic Grand Concert Harp which I rented from Budget Harp Rentals.
I really loved the harp with all the floral designs on it except for one thing. The harp had tons of mechanical and structural issues that will take the professional factory makers at Venus harps to fix up and restore. But that didn’t stop me from spending 2 years playing and practicing on that old used harp and used it to perform public concert events to raise money to buy my own pedal harp.
Two years later in 2012, after an incident involving a broken hind foot that came off when the Venus Classic fell from the trolley cart, I became compelled to use what I raised through various means to purchase a Rees Fullsicle Harpsicle harp, a special portable harp that I named “Curtis.” He is the first harp I ever bought, but not the last. I used Curtis to continue playing in public until I got tired of performing in public and took a nice break from playing music in public for a while.
As for the big rental harp, it wasn’t fair for me to concentrate on playing music on my own harps while the rental one stays silent and neglected. So I sent the harp back to Budget harp Rentals where it came from, hoping that somehow someone will buy the harp and spend tens of thousands of dollars restoring the instrument to brand new. Then people will really enjoy playing the Venus Classic again.
Although I was discouraged, sometimes to the point when I wanted to give up the fight and quit which I didn’t have the heart to do, I kept at it with the struggle to buy a pedal harp — until 9/15/16, the Day of the Blessed Event happened.
The Blessed Event
I managed to raise $3,200 by various means to purchase a L&H prelude lever harp I was planning to buy right after Labor Day. But mom told me to put the money all down towards buying the pedal harp, which I did. I managed to apply for financial aid from Allegro Credit, a financial group that was once called Allegro Acceptance until it was changed to Allegro Credit not too long ago. I once had a hard time getting approval from Allegro Acceptance. A few times I applied for financial help only to get turned down by Allegro Acceptance because I didn’t have all of what it takes to get approved.
But then about a few years ago Allegro Acceptance became Allegro Credit and made things easier for people like me to apply online and get approval in a matter of a few hours. Since then I had made more money than I ever had back a year ago. Although I was a little reluctant to do this, I made one more attempt to sign up for financial aid. I had to have my mom be my cosigner and help me sign up for approval. We both applied for financial aid together. Then…. a few hours later… at long last… I got approved! And I became overjoyed.
At long last, I can finally purchase the pedal harp. Which I did from a wonderful harp retailer store from Richmond, Virginia called Virginia Harp Center. A place where they had a big selection of new and used harps. Guess what harp I purchased from that store– Grover!
Grover! Named after that cute little monster from Sesame Street. A harp coming from a French brand that I previously wasn’t a big fan of until I ended up buying Grover from Virginia Harp Center and brought him to my house. He arrived at my house at high noon on September 15th, 2016. And what an awesome instrument he is!
Out of all the harps I personally played in the past, the Camac harp is absolutely the best of them all! This harp produces a special echoing sound and has a real admiring appeal. I admit I wasn’t interested in the Camac harp in the past. Back then, I interested in playing the likes of L&H, Venus, and Salvi harps and nothing else. But that was before the Camac Athena EX Concert Grand Harp named Grover came into my life and captivated me to where I am now a big fan of Camac harps!
Which brings me to the conclusion of this harp story of mine. It took me 25 years to get something like Grover. And now, at long last, my struggle to own the pedal harp is entirely over. I love Grover and all of Camac Harps!